How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors destroyed the lives of
seven innocent North Carolinians – and have yet to admit they were wrong

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family


Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


A familiar story of day-care sex abuse – too familiar?

141016YoungOct. 16, 2014

“A 38-year-old man from Statesville has been accused of molesting children as young as 3 years old at the day care where he worked in the 1990s….

“Police said a girl came to them in 1999 and said (Joshua Maurice) Young had molested her at the day care between 1994 and 1995, when she was 3 years old. The alleged assaults happened in a part of the building away from the other children….

“The Statesville Police Department investigated then, according to Capt. David Onley… but no charges were filed….

“In June of this year, another alleged victim came forward, Onley said. This one said she was molested by Young at the day care between 1995 and 1997. The earliest incidents happened when she was 3, she said.

“ ‘We had a female tell us exactly the same story – same place, same details as (the first) one,’ Onley said. ‘It gave validity to that (first) one. And then we had to go track down that first victim.’ ”

– From “Day care worker accused of sexually assaulting 3-year-olds in 1990s” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. in the Charlotte Observer (Oct. 15)

Is Joshua Maurice Young guilty as charged? I have no idea. But given the history of day-care sex abuse prosecutions, the case against him certainly warrants a skepticism by police not indicated in this account.

HB2 isn’t legislature’s first hysterical reaction

Charles Dunn

Daily Tar Heel, 1970

Charles Dunn

April 29, 2016

The damage was minimal compared with that caused by HB2, but the N.C. General Assembly in 1992 produced its own ludicrous overresponse to a nonexistent problem. It fell hard for the “satanic ritual abuse” allegations in the Little Rascals Day Care case.

Requiring SBI notification within 24 hours of any report of sexual abuse in a day-care setting was reasonable enough. But that was only the beginning.

According to the Associated Press:

“Law enforcement officials are teaming up with social services experts to investigate and more effectively prosecute child sexual abuse in North Carolina day-care facilities….

“State Bureau of Investigation Director Charles Dunn said… the goal is to train up to 300 individuals in the state’s largest cities.

“Under the protocol, agencies in counties would establish guidelines for interagency task forces. Each task force would include an investigative unit and a resource unit.

“The typical investigative unit would include a child protective services social worker, law enforcement officer, consultant from the state day-care licensing agency and an SBI agent.

“The resource unit might include medical personnel, SBI lab experts, mental health workers and representatives of the attorney general’s and local district attorney’s offices….”

Maybe this sprawling bureaucratic troop movement, frustrated in its original mission, could be reactivated to enforce HB2 in the state’s bathrooms…..

— My response to a post on HB2 at the North Carolina Criminal law blog (April 29)


Therapists were naïve in use of dolls

111125TalbotApril 10, 2013

“Consider the use of anatomically detailed dolls to prompt shy or frightened children to reveal abuse. This was an innovation of the 1970s, and at first it certainly seemed like an effective and compassionate one.

“But more recent studies have cast doubt on whether these dolls prompt more accurate recall, especially for the pre-schoolage children for whom they are usually deployed.

“The doll is supposed to be a body double for the child him- or herself; but since the vast majority of children this age lack the symbolic thinking required to make such a connection– most two- and three-year-olds, for example, cannot see the relation between a room and a scale model of it – this proposition turns out to be rather dubious.

“More to the point, it seems that some children who have not been sexually abused will also play with an anatomically detailed doll in sexually suggestive ways – promptly removing its clothes, touching or grabbing its ‘genitals,’ sticking their fingers into various orifices. As the authors of one study judiciously put it, the ‘average amount of sexualized doll play by presumably non-abused children is not alarming, but there is enough of it to be potentially problematic in clinical or forensic situations.’

“In other words, if you are prepared to see signs of abuse, you may see them even in behavior that, in other contexts or at other times, would be attributed to normal sexual curiosity.

“And this is precisely the issue: At a time when there was comparatively little data available on what constituted normal sexuality in children, this vacuum was filled by people with a very narrow view of the possibilities.”

– From “Against Innocence: The truth about child abuse and the truth about children” by Margaret Talbot in The New Republic (March 15, 1999)

Prosecution therapists in the Little Rascals case made extensive use of anatomically correct dolls. During Bob Kelly’s trial, therapist Janet Hadler of Chapel Hill showed a video clip of a 5-year-old girl pressing together the pelvises of a male and a female doll. “Children who are demonstrating explicit sexual contact,” Hadler testified confidently, “are doing that because they have some knowledge of adult sexual behavior.”

NC GOP’s one weird trick for justice reform

160604McCollumFeb. 11, 2016

“Significant criminal justice reforms (are needed) to minimize the chances of wrongful prosecution in the future.

“Some might dismiss such goals as a liberal utopian ideal, but criminal justice reform is being embraced nationwide by tea party conservatives. Why? Because few things exemplify the overreach of an all-too-powerful government (better) than one that yanks away an individual’s freedom without legal justification….

“Conservatives in the heavily Republican Texas legislature have embraced some of the most far-reaching criminal justice reforms in the country….”

– From “Shame and joy behind 149 exonerations” in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Feb. 7 editorial)

And how is North Carolina’s own heavily Republican legislature taking up the cause of criminal justice reform? With the piously labeled Restoring Proper Justice Act, (text cache), which both conceals information on the drugs used for capital punishment and repeals a law requiring a physician be present.  Sponsoring Rep. Leo Daughtry railed against “roadblocks in front of the death penalty (that) have stopped us from using the punishment” for the past decade.

Had Daughtry had his way, death row inmates Henry McCollum and Leon Brown would long since have been executed – instead of exonerated and then pardoned by the same governor who blithely signed the Restoring Proper Justice Act into law.


‘Believe the children’ (after they’ve been interrogated into submission)


Dec. 10, 2017

“Controversy over the credibility of children’s testimony has congealed into a debate between those who demand that we ‘believe the children’ no matter how outlandish their allegations and those who maintain that children are inherently so suggestible that their testimony can never be relied on upon. An interesting question that remains is why children are not believed when, as often happens, they specifically deny charges at the time they first arise….

“Why isn’t the child allowed to say no? A widening body of research shows that repeated questioning of children, especially by authoritative adults with a specific bias, will often lead to answers that conform to the interviewers’ expectations….

“Divorce, neglect, unsafe neighborhoods, bad schools – these primary social problems are not the fault of the people to whom we have entrusted our children. Forcing children to invent stories of abuse is abuse….”

– From “Child-care Demons” by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker (Oct. 3, 1994)


Another century, another generation of fake victims

Jean La Fontaine

Jean La Fontaine

Dec. 8, 2015

“It is over 20 years since the rash of allegation that rituals of devil worship, including the sexual abuse of children, the sacrifice, and (sometimes) eating, of animals, children and even babies as well as other extreme acts of depravity were being conducted across the U.K. In 1994 I reported to the Department of Health that in the 84 cases in England and Wales that were the basis of my research, I could find no supporting evidence for the existence of such a satanic cult.

“The allegations have not stopped however, although they no longer get the publicity they used to have as, officially, satanic or ritual abuse no longer exists. It is not mentioned in guidance to social workers on the subject of abuse of children. However, a particularly unpleasant case that occurred in Hampstead in 2014 has recently been widely reported in the press….

“The persistence of these allegations into the 21st century repeats the questions that I thought I had answered at the end of the 20th! This is, first: how is it that ‘victims’ can tell stories of gruesome experiences that they never had? Secondly: how is it that adults, many of them sensible, educated people, believe these stories?….”

– From “Jean La Fontaine on Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic” at the British False Memory Society (Nov. 19)

The unsinkable Ann Wolbert Burgess

120709BurgessMarch 8, 2013

“Over 15 years ago, a number of children were sexually abused while attending three different day care centers sponsored by military services…

“This is the fourth follow-up interview with parents of 42 (of those) children….

“(In 1984 children at West Point day care) reported that the perpetrators wore masks and black robes. Pencils and fingers penetrated vaginas and rectums. Children were threatened with harm to themselves and their parents if they told that they witnessed the abuse of other children….

“After extensive investigation, the federal prosecutor declined to bring the case to trial due to the young ages of the children and the fragility of their memories….

“One lingering source of distress for the parents was that two of the criminal cases (Presidio and West Point) fell apart. It seemed to them as if reporting the abuse did not matter. This also added to the mystery of conspiracy that surrounded these two cases….”

– From “Children’s Adjustment 15 Years After Daycare Abuse” by Ann Wolbert Burgess and Carol R. Hartman (Journal of Forensic Nursing, Summer 2005)

Although Burgess’s career-making wrongheadedness isn’t news, I was still surprised to find her clinging to the ritual abuse hoax as recently as 2005. Prosecutors’ cases “fell apart”? – must be a “conspiracy”!

But it was Burgess, after all, whose conclusion that children in the West Point case had been ritually abused (with the obligatory “masks and black robes”) compelled the government to settle a civil suit by parents for $2.7 million. To acknowledge her error would require quite an “Oops!” wouldn’t it?

Footnote: I’ve got a previous commitment, but if you’re in Nashua, N.H., today, you can see Burgess honored by the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

Day-care ritual-abuse claims vs. ‘The Cosby Show’

130920DouglasSept. 20, 2013

“In 1984 in particular we see a turning point in the media representation of American motherhood. Two major media events exemplified the cultural contradictions in which working mothers were caught:

“On one end of the spectrum, the McMartin day-care child-molestation scandal (followed by a barrage of similar scandals), and on the other end the spectrum, the premiere and runaway success of ‘The Cosby Show.’

“The former served as the direst warning of what happens when mothers go to work and entrust their children to others. The latter suggested that you could work at a demanding job, express frequent exasperation with your kids and threaten to murder them on  a regular basis, and yet have a loving husband and children and be a terrific mother….”

– From “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women” by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels (2004)

Day-care panic had roots in incest movement

140523RushMay 23, 2014

“….The widespread belief that sexual abuse of children is endemic to society is a relatively new notion. In fact, it can be traced to a particular moment in history: April 17, 1971.

“On that day the New York Radical Feminists, a group that at its height boasted no more than 400 members, held a groundbreaking conference on rape. For two days, women held forth on a subject long considered taboo…. A speech given by Florence Rush (was) the highlight of the event.

“Rush was an unlikely star for such a gathering. A middle-aged social worker, who had never been raped, she outlined statistical studies suggesting that sexual abuse of children, including incest, was a more widespread problem than was generally recognized….

“Before Rush’s speech, feminists had given little thought to incest. Author Andrea Dworkin recalled that before the conference ‘we never had any idea how common it was.’ In the decades following Rush’s talk, feminists more than made up for their earlier unawareness, competing with each other in elevating the number of victims….

“Believe the women. Believe the children. These refrains became the mantra of the incest movement. While the women’s movement would be enormously successful in turning sexual abuse – including incest – into a major public issue, women, ironically, would become the chief victims of the hysteria it generated.

“The obsession with this supposedly rampant sexual abuse played out in two ways: ‘Believe the women’ became the repressed memory hysteria. ‘Believe the children’ turned into the day-care hysteria….”

– From “Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes” by Rael Jean Isaac in the Women’s Quarterly (summer 2001) text cache

The road to the moral panic that would sweep up innocent day-care providers from North Carolina to New Zealand was a long one. If Florence Rush’s 1971 speech was one milestone early on, then perhaps the still-contentious 1988 conference of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation could be seen as the beginning of the end – although the allegations against the Edenton Seven weren’t yet even a gleam in a therapist’s eye….

Obama can’t pardon Chandler – but McCrory could

Steven Avery

Steven Avery

Jan. 6, 2016

“Many fans of (the hit Netflix documentary) Making a Murderer, which sheds light on questionable conduct by prosecutors and police involved in (Steven) Avery’s conviction, view the 53-year-old’s imprisonment as a miscarriage of justice and petitioned President Obama to pardon Avery. The online petitions have garnered more than 200,000 signatures.

“There’s just one problem: Avery is a state prisoner convicted under state law. The president only has the constitutional power to pardon or commute sentences in the federal system.

“Fans of Making a Murderer who believe Avery deserves clemency should consider signing this petition addressed to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, which has so far been signed by just 1,033 people….”

– From “Hey, Making a Murderer Fans: Obama Can’t Pardon Steven Avery” by Leon Neyfakh at Slate (Jan. 4)

Junior Chandler’s application for gubernatorial clemency was rejected in 2014 and isn’t eligible for reconsideration until March 25, 2017.

But those who believe almost 30 years in prison is adequate punishment for a nonexistent crime may express their opinion by writing

Executive Clemency Office
4294 Mail Service Center
Raleigh NC 27699-4294

Meanwhile, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic continues to investigate Chandler’s case.


Kelly defenders risked ‘financial and social suicide’

July 13, 2015

Throughout the long unfolding of the Little Rascals Day Care prosecution, outsiders often sought to determine the “mood of Edenton.” This was a challenging task even in the early days of the case, and it became just about impossible after the first “Innocence Lost” episode cast the town in a starkly unflattering light.

The default response to anyone with a notepad: Go away.

In 1996, however, a defense attorney weighing Edenton as a site for Bob Kelly’s possible retrial had better luck. His case notes include this candid and chilling evaluation from a longtime Edentonian:

“(The resident) didn’t believe that any of the defendants, but especially Bob, had a chance of getting a fair trial in Edenton. Although the constant talk of Little Rascals has died down, he said people still wouldn’t dare mention the idea of innocence. He believes that probably half of (Chowan County) either doesn’t believe Bob did it or at least not to the extent alleged. He believes the largest group of ‘nonbelievers’ to be those of lesser means, and especially minorities.

“He said that anyone of means or in any type of business in town would be committing financial and social suicide if they voiced any belief in Bob’s innocence.

“He said that even if he knew Bob to be innocent, or less guilty than charged, he would have a hard time voting so as a juror in light of the lifelong social repercussions. If there was even one or two jurors who believed Bob was guilty, they would be able to pressure everyone else into voting with them….”

‘Satanic ritual abuse’ loses its place in textbook

130426Perrin2April 26, 2013

By 1997, when the college textbook “Family Violence Across the Lifespan” was first published, the most grievous excesses of the day-care ritual-abuse panic had passed (although it would be two more years before Little Rascals prosecutors dropped a final, unrelated charge against Bob Kelly).

The authors, social scientists at Pepperdine University, devoted entire sections to “Do Children Fabricate Reports of Child Sexual Abuse?” and “The Satanic Ritual Abuse Controversy.” More on those issues here.

Their approach is thoughtfully skeptical, but they can’t quite bring themselves to call baloney on those peers whose ill-conceived claims ginned up the “controversy” or whose gullibility prolonged it. For example:

“If there is so little evidence confirming the existence of SRA, why do so many perceive the SRA threat to be real? One reason is that… therapists, police officers and child protection authorities, who are often required to attend seminars on current developments in their field, are exposed to SRA ‘experts’…. These seminars tend to employ proselytizing techniques characteristic of organizations seeking recruits. Many well-meaning helping professionals, who are generally motivated by the desire to help abused clients, become convinced of the existence of SRA through these seminars (such as the one at Kill Devil Hills)….”

“Family Violence…” has proved popular enough to justify a third edition (2011), in which all mention of ritual abuse has been removed.

I asked sociologist Robin D. Perrin, one of the authors, to trace his thinking on the subject between editions.

“I suppose one could argue that the ‘Satanic Ritual Abuse’ issue is a bit dated at this point,” he replied, “as the Satanism scare has mostly faded into the sunset. But it is still a fascinating page in history, if nothing else….

“As for our approach on these issues, I think ‘thoughtfully skeptical’ is probably fair. You are correct that we fall far short of an outright denial of the validity of all ritual abuse claims. I am quite certain we are not in position to do that. In fact, given the history of mistreatment of children (both ‘then’ and ‘now’) I have no doubt that ‘ritual’ abuse has occurred (depending on how it is defined, of course).”

‘For historians… a taste of what it was like to live in Salem’

June 21, 2013

From blog commenter Mike:

“I’d seen the ‘Frontline’ episodes long ago, before I moved to North Carolina. I was surprised to learn, when I recently revisited the case, that this travesty happened in a state I love.

“For historians who might want to get a taste of what it was like to live in Salem in the late 17th century (or, to invoke a less well-known era, Germany of the 15th century), this staggering case would serve them well…. The unrepentant prosecutors, ignorant ‘therapists’ and others who ruined the lives of the defendants must not be allowed to be forgotten.”

Mike’s reference to the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1484 by two German friars to squelch skepticism about the existence of witchcraft, is painfully apt. Just substitute “satanic ritual abuse” for “witchcraft,” and – poof! – up in smoke go five centuries of the ascent of man.

Today’s anonymous fan mail: ‘You should be investigated yourself’

May 4, 2018

“Only a pedophile would attempt to justify other pedophiles. If you didn’t follow the case in the news at the time or attend the trial,
how do you know they’re innocent? The fact is you don’t and are just saying they are to brush the incident under the rug.
“You should be investigated yourself.”


DA Williams to jury: Don’t consider the source

130220OzFeb. 20, 2013

“Don’t focus on the question, focus on the answer.”

– District Attorney H. P. Williams, urging jurors to ignore the leading questions that therapists asked child-witnesses to elicit accusations against Bob Kelly

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

– The Wizard of Oz